Is ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ worth a Friday night movie night? Yes! The film is the origin story of one of film history’s most iconic characters, Han Solo. It offers an inventive setup for his colorful escapades, including clever first meetings with Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. It also offers exciting action, great plot twists and a well-done romance with his first love.
Disney made the epic purchase of Lucasfilm and the attendant rights to all things “Star Wars” in 2012. Since then, the Mouse House has been revving up new films tied to the legendary series. Fans worried that the new films would botch its legacy. But there’s nothing Disney could do that would be worse than what series creator George Lucas did himself with the three relatively weak prequels in the early 2000s.
Judging by box office returns, fans have been pleased with the official seventh and eighth chapters in the series. Fans also enjoyed the first spin-off film, ‘Rogue One.’ Yet ‘Solo’ had a rougher time in its first couple of weekends out. Some feared that one big problem with it would be the decision to dare to cast unknown actor Alden Ehrenreich in the iconic role of maverick space pilot Han Solo. Harrison Ford rode to fame in the same role 41 years ago.
The good news is that the gambit has paid off. Ehrenreich not only brings the right dose of humorous swagger to the role, but also some touching moments that are great for dates. The film hinges largely on his complicated pre-Leia romance with a woman named Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). A great deal of the fun comes from the filmmakers creating origin-story moments for Solo that explain how he got his name (he wasn’t born with it). The story also includes how he met Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and how he scored ownership of the Millennium Falcon. These scenes make this an entertaining date night movie.
A relatable wish for a better life
The story itself hinges on Solo wanting to escape his poverty-stricken planet with Qi’ra. In his late teens, he embarks on an adventure-filled life as a pilot with her. But the young rogue immediately runs into some nasty aliens he upset in a business deal. He and Qi’ra get tragically separated as they attempt to escape. Solo manages to flee, while she is captured.
Then, the film jumps to three years later. Solo is trapped in a war as an infantryman despite having joined the Empire military as a pilot. After running afoul of his superiors, he meets Chewbacca in a surprisingly dangerous way. The two jump aboard a spaceship commandeered by another rogue smuggler named Beckett (Woody Harrelson at his charming best).
Beckett enlists Solo and Chewie in a mission to steal tons of a highly coveted, rare and extremely explosive fuel source. The huge payoff if they succeed will be enough to set Solo up with the spaceship of his dreams. If the mission goes as planned, Solo would be able to return to his home planet and rescue Qi’ra.
A reunion filled with romance and a dash of mystery
Solo runs into Qi’ra unexpectedly when Beckett takes him to meet Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the evil and very wealthy man who’s overseeing the heist. Finding that she has become Dryden’s right-hand woman, Solo has to figure out whether he can trust her. Solo also has to figure out if Beckett and Calrissian — whom Qi’ra introduces to him in a high-stakes card game — are really on his side.
The best thing about ‘Solo’ is its tight script by Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Return of the Jedi’, and ‘The Force Awakens’) and his son Jonathan. The movie is filled with interesting twists and double-crosses all the way to the end. The sense of discovery about characters we thought we knew inside-out is a lot of fun, and director Ron Howard – who stepped in to replace another directing team and had to re-shoot 80 percent of the movie – brings it all to life expertly.
A solid cast saves the day and opens the door for more
There has been some speculation that, with ‘Solo’ off to a slower start at the box office than other ‘Star Wars’ films, Disney may have to pull the plug on future films that are offshoots from the main story-line. But ‘Solo’ was plagued by bad pre-release publicity from the fact that Howard took over well into shooting. This left the movie an unfortunate victim of issues that have nothing to do with its final quality.
Filled with surprising twists and fun performances— with Harrelson and Bettany particularly strong— Howard pulls it off. One could look at the seemingly endless series of ‘Star Wars’ related films coming down the pike (at a clip of every six months to a year now) and wonder if they’ll run out of steam. But four movies in, Disney is showing it has a commitment to using top-notch writers and directors. They’re leaving viewers plenty of reasons to be thankful that they’ll have quality film-making to go with stunning effects for years to come.